Reflection: Planning/Time Management

As a Teacher

  • Pre-Calculus
    • Lesson Planning is taking a lot less time this time around, since I spent a lot of time documenting the lessons from last year. Over-planning was actually an issue last semeseter; I would never actually complete everything I planned, and that was mildly frustrating. Also, there’s an element of improvisation that happens depending on the mood of the classroom, which means that scripting every sentence is simply not possible anyway.
  • Calculus II
    • The first two weeks I only prepared by rereading the text on the sections that the lead professor went over, but on the second week students asked me questions that definitely stomped me because I had not seen the problem before hand. Now, I ask students to email me their questions before the TA session, so that I can prepare with care. Planning short lectures on Calculus II material has been easier after that change in preparation, especially with access to great tools.

As a Student

  • Algebra
    • I’m really glad to be practicing with SAGE, but I’ve honed in on specific problems and end up spending significant time cleaning up code instead of doing proofs. I need to find a balance in what I’m focusing on when learning.
  • Real Analysis II
    • I should really be spending more time on this course. The lectures in this cource has been a blessing for preparing for Calculus II TA sessions, since it helps get me into the “mood” to do Calculus. 🙂
  • Combinatorics
    • Obsessing over the details in this class takes too long. I’m in a similar situation with Algebra, but there’s this one is more like I spend 4-5 hours on one proof and run out of time for the other problems.

There’s a lot of juggling, and I have to get better at this soon before the midterm season.

Reflection- Group Work: Size & Clarity

I’m wondering how group activities can be done with 40+ students; I often give short, paired activities during lecture, which (hopefully) helps with engagement, but if I want to give a longer “exploration” activity in class, there are challenges.

Group Size

Checking in with each group is takes a significant amount of time, scaling linearly. I tried to keep group size to 3-4 students, but dividing students into groups of 4-5 lead to having about 8-10 groups. The down time caused some groups to finish faster than others. There must be an optimal ratio for the number of students to square foot of classroom. I currently have 40 students, but the rooms are a lot smaller than the previous semester, I must alter the group activity plans. I also had 80 minutes sessions on Tues/Thurs instead of 50 and a much larger classroom for discussions/group work in the 4th hour. My lesson plans will require more adjustments, I suspect.

Some groups had members forging ahead before everyone understood, and that’s always a challenge as well. I wonder if larger groups are a good idea, because conversations between more than 5 students often turn to a few pairs and few solo working in parallel…

Clarity: Instruction and Feedback

This time around, when I lead the group activity I focused on the clarity of my instructions, and I’m trying a different approach this semester compared to last. Previously, I gave handouts with specific procedure, but it was confusing for some students. This time, I tried a different approach, where I  verbally and visually give instructions on the board and forgo all printed handouts in order to allow for students to make their own notes instead of using data sheets. I think I might bring back the data sheet for the later activities, so that the students can know what I specifically expect from them. I should specify that students should use technology to assist in graphing and calculations.

In terms of feedback, I tried to ask questions and check for understanding, but the number of groups is high, which means I must spend less time per group, or make the group size larger. If I maintain that the groups have no more than 5 people, then I will have at least 8 groups – which can cause my feedback to the students to be less precise and more brief. Perhaps I can take a vote with my students, to see if they prefer trying larger groups, given the challenges above?

Looking back, I admire my high school teachers who managed to deal with 30 students at a time, and were able to conduct experiments in labs, with open flames, too.